What Does It Mean to Love God?
ABOUT six thousand years ago, the first human baby was born. After his birth, his mother, Eve, said: “I have produced a man with the aid of Jehovah.” (Genesis 4:1) Her statement reveals that, although already condemned to death for their rebellion, Eve and her husband, Adam, were still aware of Jehovah’s Godship. Later they produced a second son. The boys were named Cain and Abel.
As the sons grew up, they undoubtedly learned much about Jehovah’s love just by examining his creation. They enjoyed the beautiful colors in nature and the variety of animals and plants. Not only did God give them life but he also gave them the ability to find pleasure in life.
They learned that their parents had been created perfect and that Jehovah’s original purpose was for humans to live forever. Likely Adam and Eve described to them the beautiful garden of Eden, and they somehow had to explain why they had been expelled from such a paradisaic home. Cain and Abel may also have been aware of the divine prophecy recorded at Genesis 3:15. With that prophecy Jehovah expressed his purpose to set matters straight in due time for the benefit of those who love him and prove loyal to him.
Learning about Jehovah and his qualities must have generated in Cain and Abel a desire for God’s favor. So they approached Jehovah by presenting offerings to him. The Bible account says: “It came about at the expiration of some time that Cain proceeded to bring some fruits of the ground as an offering to Jehovah. But as for Abel, he too brought some firstlings of his flock, even their fatty pieces.”—Genesis 4:3, 4.
Their desire for God’s favor established a foundation for a relationship with him. Cain ended up rebelling against God, whereas Abel continued to be motivated by genuine love of God. Abel would never have developed such a relationship with God unless he had first acquired knowledge about Jehovah’s personality and his purposes.
You too can get to know Jehovah. For instance, in the Bible you can learn that God is a real person, not simply a lifeless force that goes about creating things by mere accident. (Compare John 7:28; Hebrews 9:24; Revelation 4:11.) The Bible also teaches that Jehovah is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.”—Exodus 34:6.
“To Obey Is Better Than a Sacrifice”
As illustrated by the account of Cain and Abel, having knowledge of God and a desire for a close relationship with him is not enough. True, the two brothers approached God with offerings. Yet, “while Jehovah was looking with favor upon Abel and his offering, he did not look with any favor upon Cain and upon his offering. And Cain grew hot with great anger, and his countenance began to fall.”—Genesis 4:3-5.
Why did Jehovah reject Cain’s sacrifice? Was there something wrong with the quality of his offering? Was Jehovah offended because Cain offered the “fruits of the ground” instead of an animal sacrifice? Not necessarily. Later, God gladly accepted offerings of grain and other fruits of the ground from many of his worshipers. (Leviticus 2:1-16) Evidently, then, there was something wrong with Cain’s heart. Jehovah could read Cain’s heart and warned him: “Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen? If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation? But if you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving.”—Genesis 4:6, 7.
Genuine love of God means more than merely offering sacrifices. That is why Jehovah encouraged Cain to “turn to doing good.” God wanted obedience. Such obedience to God would have helped Cain to form a good foundation for a loving relationship with the Creator. The Bible emphasizes the value of obedience with these words: “Does Jehovah have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice, to pay attention than the fat of rams.”—1 Samuel 15:22.
This concept was well established later with the words of 1 John 5:3: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.” There is no better way to show our love for Jehovah than by submitting ourselves to his authority. This means obedience to the Bible’s moral code. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) It means loving what is good and hating what is bad.—Psalm 97:10; 101:3; Proverbs 8:13.
One important manifestation of our love for God is our love of neighbor. The Bible tells us: “If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 John 4:20.
Intimacy With God Is Possible
Some may say, ‘I worship Jehovah. I obey his laws. I treat my fellowman fairly. I do all of that. Still, I don’t really feel close to God. I don’t feel a strong love for him, and that makes me feel guilty.’ Some may think that they are not worthy of attaining such an intimate relationship with Jehovah.
After almost 37 years of dedicated service to Jehovah, one Christian wrote: “Many times in my life I have felt that I was rather perfunctory in my service to Jehovah, that maybe my heart wasn’t even in it. But I knew that serving Jehovah was the right thing to do, and I wouldn’t allow myself to stop. However, every time I would read of someone saying that his or her ‘heart swelled with love for Jehovah,’ I would wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me, since I’ve never felt that way?’” How can we find intimacy with God?
When you truly love someone, you often think about that person. You have a strong desire to be close to him because you care for him. The more you see him, talk to him, and think about him, the more your love for him grows. This principle also applies to your cultivating love for God.
At Psalm 77:12, the inspired writer says: “I shall certainly meditate on all your activity, and with your dealings I will concern myself.” Meditation is vital in cultivating love for God. This is especially true in view of the fact that he is invisible. But the more you think about him, the more real he will become to you. Only then can you develop a heartfelt and affectionate relationship with him—because he is real to you.
Your inclination to meditate frequently on Jehovah’s ways and dealings will depend on how often you listen to him. You listen through regular reading and study of his Word, the Bible. The psalmist speaks of a happy man as one whose “delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.”—Psalm 1:1, 2.
Another important element is prayer. That is why the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to pray—“on every occasion,” ‘devoting time to prayer,’ ‘persevering in prayer,’ and ‘praying incessantly.’ (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 7:5; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) Our incessant prayers to Jehovah will endear us to him, and the assurance that he listens will draw us close to him. This was confirmed by the psalmist, when he declared: “I do love, because Jehovah hears my voice, my entreaties. For he has inclined his ear to me, and throughout my days I shall call.”—Psalm 116:1, 2.
Imitating the God of Love
Jehovah is good to us. Being the Creator of the universe, he certainly has many things to keep in mind and to care for. Yet, the Bible tells us that as majestic as he is, he still cares for his human creation. He loves us. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) The psalmist confirms this with his words: “O Jehovah our Lord, how majestic your name is in all the earth, you whose dignity is recounted above the heavens! When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?”—Psalm 8:1, 3, 4.
How has Jehovah kept mortal man in mind? The Bible answers: “By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 4:9, 10.
How is this propitiatory sacrifice the greatest evidence of God’s love? Let us consider what happened in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were faced with the decision of whether to submit to Jehovah’s law with the prospect of perfect life forever or to rebel against Jehovah with death as a result. They chose to rebel. (Genesis 3:1-6) In doing so they also condemned all of mankind to death. (Romans 5:12) They presumptuously robbed us of the opportunity to decide for ourselves. None of us had a say in the matter.
However, Jehovah has lovingly kept mortal man in mind, recognizing his predicament. Through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, Jehovah has provided the legal grounds for each of us to choose for himself life or death, obedience or rebellion. (John 3:16) It is as if Jehovah granted us our own day in court—an opportunity to go back to Eden, as it were, and make our own decision. This is the greatest manifestation of love ever made.
Imagine the pain that Jehovah endured as he saw his firstborn being insulted, tortured, and impaled like a criminal. And God endured that for us. Our awareness of Jehovah’s initiative in loving us first should, in turn, motivate us to love him and incite us to search for him. (James 1:17; 1 John 4:19) The Bible invites us to “search for Jehovah and his strength. Seek his face constantly. Remember his wonderful works that he has performed, his miracles and the judicial decisions of his mouth.”—Psalm 105:4, 5.
To have a personal attachment and a loving relationship with God, to be his friend, is not unrealistic. It is attainable. True, we cannot strictly equate our love for God with human relationships. The love we feel for our mate, parents, siblings, children, or friends is different from the love we have for God. (Matthew 10:37; 19:29) Loving Jehovah involves our devotion, worship, and an unconditional dedication to him. (Deuteronomy 4:24) No other relationship has such implications. Still, we can develop strong and deep emotions for God in a reverential way, with awe.—Psalm 89:7.
Although imperfect, like Cain and Abel you have the potential for loving your Creator. Cain made his choice, joined Satan, and became the first human murderer. (1 John 3:12) In contrast, Abel will be remembered by Jehovah as a man of faith and righteousness and will be rewarded with life in the coming Paradise.—Hebrews 11:4.
You too have a choice. With the help of God’s spirit and his Word, you can truly come to love God “with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) Jehovah, in turn, will continue to love you, for he is “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—Hebrews 11:6.
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Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God